Moment of Paws: How to deal with your pet’s stress and anxiety

Please keep an eye on pets like Macchi to track their moods.

Beginning a new year typically brings a sense of renewed hope and optimism, but our level of anxiety going into 2022 may be at an unprecedented high.

Just like humans, pets can be prone to stress, anxiety, and depression. The onset of the aforementioned can come from sensing, empathizing, and mirroring our own mental states. It can also come in response to the addition or loss of a family member or pet, a change in routine, or moving into a new home.

At the Animal Rescue League of Boston (ARL), we regularly treat animals of all species exhibiting various behaviors. It could be a dog with fearful body language, a cat who chronically hides, a feather- picking bird, a nervous rabbit with bulging eyes, among others.

Signs that your pet may be experiencing stress, anxiety, or depression can include: lower-than-usual activity levels, a lack of appetite, excessive grooming, regression of behavioral training, and destructive or aggressive behavior.

If your pet is exhibiting any of these, consider the following:
• Give them more attention. Spending more time with your pet assures them they are cared for and safe. Whether it be play time, petting, grooming, or cuddling, do whatever they and you enjoy.

• Increase activity. Just like us, when your pet is active, there’s the potential for mood enhancement. Inactivity can lead to boredom, which can lead to sadness, so make sure your pet is getting plenty of stimulation and exercise – it will not only improve their mental and physical health, but also yours!

• Establish a routine. Having a routine is crucial for a healthy and happy pet. Providing structure to their day keeps them focused and stimulated.

• Continue socializing and training. Socialization for dogs is critical and spending time with canine friends or in doggie daycare can drastically improve their mood. Training is also key, as it adds another layer of stimulation and strengthens the bond between you and your pet.

• Speak with an expert. If you suspect a decline in your pet’s mental health, talk to your veterinarian. To navigate any behavioral issues your pet may be having, you can also reach out to ARL’s free Pet Behavior Helpline by calling (617) 226-5666 or emailing behaviorhelpline@arlboston.org.

Being a pet owner can be challenging, but we are all in this together! This column is a forum for you, so please, if you have a specific question or topic you would like me to address, please email press@arlboston.org.

Dr. Edward Schettino is the president and CEO of the Animal Rescue League of Boston. He has a doctorate from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.

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